If you let a puppy piddle on the carpet without discipline, it will keep doing it. It will grow into a big dog that destroys your carpeting and rugs and makes your whole house stink.
So it is with scientific literature.
We all know bad papers are out there. When you read them, you’re left scratching your head and wondering, “How on earth did these pass peer-review?” Worse still, there are “ugly” science articles, where the scientific method goes by the wayside and data are cherry-picked, misinterpreted or manipulated to justify a political or ideological agenda or to undermine science that interferes with that agenda.
I agree with Dr Phil Clapham, who provided the forward for the “Marine mammal observer and passive acoustic monitoring handbook” (by V. Todd, I. Todd, J. Gardner & E. Morin): the title is a bit of a mouthful. Therefore, I will refer to the book by the abbreviated title above. That said, this is a really useful book that I’ve found myself reaching for on several occasions when needing to look something up.
People call them the “Dead Marshes”, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The marshes are in fact incredibly biodiverse and productive. Admittedly that productivity has a lot to do with the slow decomposition of the corpses of men and elves, but they are productive nonetheless. The marsh vegetation also plays an important part in detoxifying the ecosystem. There is a slight problem with the level of mithril contamination in the marshes, but there are several marsh plants that sequester this trace element.
The marshes are also important sinks for carbon. Climate change is increasingly a concern in Middle Earth, what with the dramatic rise in dragon-related emissions and the felling and burning of Fangorn Forest, not to mention the carbon dioxide plume from Mount Doom.
There are an increasing number of scientific articles being produced and posted at a frantic rate. How can you make your paper stand out and be memorable amongst this plethora of publications? Moreover, if your work is conservation-related, how do you ensure that the people who matter see and remember your work?
The one part of your paper all readers see and read is the title. From my own experience as an editor of scientific journals, as well as from the page-view statistics I have seen, the percentage of people that go on to read your abstract is less than a tenth of those that read the title. The percentage that read beyond the abstract to look at the whole article is a tenth of that again.
This why I have entitled this blog “Title is the new abstract“. You want to maximize the amount of information in the title of your paper.
This week social media was afire with news that a child fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, with the result that a male lowland gorilla was shot to protect the child. This is the third time a toddler has fallen into a gorilla enclosure. Comments on social media blamed the parent for not minding their child, the zoo for shooting the gorilla, and a few also blamed the zoo for not building a safer enclosure, which would prevent toddlers from being able to enter. I did not notice, however, any comments on how the public often perceives potentially dangerous wildlife – as something that is safe, and not actually life-threatening.
I’m currently doing an annual review of environmental impacts on whales and dolphins for the International Whaling Commission, which involves assessing, reading and potentially summarizing almost everything that’s published on cetacean conservation. Every year this exercise gives me an ulcer because: (a) climate change and pollution threats are accelerating; (b) reiterated recommendations from scientists from many, many previous years have yet again gone unheeded; and (c) some endangered species get closer and closer to extinction, yet most of the funding goes to research questions whose answers we really already know rather than to practical conservation. It’s all rather depressing …
Being a scientist can be very frustrating, even infuriating. It might well be because of the inequalities and unfairness of academic life (such as incompetent administrators, a lack of funding, poor career prospects, or academic bullying and harassment ). However, if you work in the conservation field, the frustrations will positively abound. In addition to the depressingly high likelihood that you will see your study habitat or species disappear before your eyes, there are potentially the vexing roadblocks of your science being ignored – or being actively distorted – by policy makers, other scientists actively working against your efforts – either through their naivety or by deliberate design – or being attacked by crazy whacktivists because they think your approach is the wrong one .
Stress is often high among scientists, especially those involved in conservation. However, I have found one of easiest solutions to relieve the stress is to write about your problems. Putting all the anger and frustrations down on paper (or on screen) can be sublimely cathartic. You can feel your blood pressure literally dropping points with every word you write.
Earlier today SeaWorld announced to the media that it was making major changes in its practices when it comes to marine wildlife. The announcement comes after years of bad publicity and failing stock prices as the result of the documentary Blackfish, criticism from marine mammal and marine conservation scientists and an unrelenting social media campaign by online activists. The changes announced are a major paradigm shift for the company and include:
SETMC will be held from 1 July – 4 August 2042 at the Attenborough Centre for Conservation Glasgow University, Scotland.
We are now accepting abstracts for in person and virtual presentations, as well as proposals for neuro-linked discussion groups.
All abstracts must be submitted online or via neural-uplink by 5pm (GMT) on 1 March 2042. Decisions will be made by the end of March 2042. Complete instructions for submission are available at the meeting website. The selection process is highly competitive. Read More
On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.
I have come back, rather the worse for wear (my elderly liver, despite regenerative medication, really can’t take the pace anymore!) from a celebration for my 200th successful graduate student. The Head of my Department (actually a past grad student of one of my past grad students, or my grand-grad student I guess!) actually pushed the budgetary boat out and we had some very agreeable Canadian Cabernet and a chocolate cake that tasted like it was covered in chocolate from the days when there were still cacao plants. It really was quite a happy celebration, apart from the fact that this newly graduated PhD was heading out into an academic world that is sadly red in tooth and claw. There’s only a month until my 71st birthday, and with luck I’ll be able to retire within the next ten years. I’d retire happy, and live out the rest of my years reading and drinking nice wine, if it wasn’t for my concerns about my old students.
Not having children myself, many of my graduate students have become part of my family – I have many whom I have nurtured through undergraduate, masters, doctorates and even the super doctoral degrees they introduced in response to the glut of unemployed PhDs. Back in the day, there used to be something called tenure, when professors essentially had job security and the academic freedom to study whatever they wanted. What we call a professor in present times was called an “adjunct’ back in the day. As a professor back then most of us only had to teach two classes a semester, not six or seven. And you could basically teach whatever you wanted, without multiple committees scrutinizing and editing your course content for subversive political statements or accounts of the past that did not match with the approved official historical timeline! Read More